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Origins of the Saying “Every Young Man Should Serve a Mission”

Most of you have probably heard many times that in the LDS Church, we expect every worthy young man to fulfill a mission. This is not new, every prophet since President Spencer W. Kimball has repeated that charge. Prior President Kimball, the Church had a large missionary program and many young men and young women served missions. But the expectation that everyone young male member should prepare and serve a mission wasn’t quite as strong then as it is today.

President Kimball’s Landmark Address on Missionary Work

spencerwkimball_thumbIn 1974, President Kimball gave a landmark address that changed the way we Mormons view the missionary service of young men. Thomas S. Monson, then a member of the Quourm of the Twelve Apostles, said President Kimball’s talk “had profound and deep influence on all who heard it.” Elder Monson further said that “the impact of his dynamics as a missionary-oriented person…have set in motion factors which have resulted in one of the greatest upsurges in missionary work that we have ever seen” (Status Report on Missionary Work, Ensign, October 1977).

This is what President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“The question has been often asked, Is the mission program one of compulsion? And the answer, of course, is no. Everyone is given his free agency. The question is asked: Should every young man fill a mission? And the answer of the Church is yes, and the answer of the Lord is yes. Enlarging this answer we say: Certainly every male member of the Church should fill a mission, like he should pay his tithing, like he should attend his meetings, like he should keep his life clean and free from the ugliness of the world and plan a celestial marriage in the temple of the Lord” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Planning for a Full and Abundant Life”, Ensign, May 1974, 86).

Every Prophet Since Then Has Repeated the Call

Since President Kimball’s memorable address, every prophet of the Lord has repeated that message, that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. After President Kimball, came Ezra Taft Benson as the prophet and President of the Church. This is what he said:

“The Lord wants every young man to serve a full-time mission. Currently, only a fifth of the eligible young men in the Church are serving full-time missions. This is not pleasing to the Lord. We can do better. We must do better. Not only should a mission be regarded as a priesthood duty, but every young man should look forward to this experience with great joy and anticipation. What a privilege—what a sacred privilege—to serve the Lord full time for two years with all your heart, might, mind, and strength.

You can do nothing more important. School can wait. Scholarships can be deferred. Occupational goals can be postponed. Yes, even temple marriage should wait until after a young man has served an honorable full-time mission for the Lord.” (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 44–45).

Then Howard W. Hunter became Church President, and this is what he said:

“Earlier prophets have taught that every able, worthy young man should serve a full-time mission. I emphasize this need today” (Howard W. Hunter, “Follow the Son of God”, Ensign, Nov. 1994, 87).

Many of you young people may be too young to remember presidents Kimball, Benson, and Hunter.  But hopefully, many of you still remember President Gordon B. Hinckley. This is what he said:

“I throw out a challenge to every young man within this vast congregation tonight. Prepare yourself now to be worthy to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary. He has said, ‘If ye are prepared ye shall not fear’ (D&C 38:30). Prepare to consecrate two years of your lives to this sacred service. That will in effect constitute a tithe on the first twenty years of your lives” (Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1995, 70; or Ensign, Nov. 1995, 51–52).

And of course our living prophet today is President Thomas S. Monson, and he has repeated the call:

“I repeat what prophets have long taught—that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary. Keep yourselves clean and pure and worthy to represent the Lord” (President Thomas S. Monson, As We Meet Together Again, October 2010).

I hope all young men, if there ever was a doubt, now know with certainty that the prophet of God expects them to serve a mission. As President Kimball said, the Church will never force you to go because that would be contrary to the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But full-time missionary service is the duty of every able young man, and we hope you will choose to accept the assignment.

Young men, we need you to be missionaries. Start preparing now. Keep yourself worthy, study the scriptures, learn how to become an effective missionary, and prepare yourself in all other ways to be a representative of the Lord for two years. Serve with honor and faithfulness and the Lord will bless you. May all the young men out there heed this call from the prophet is my prayerful desire.